Human arrogance and pride is everywhere, and it’s not just the “hatetheists” who are guilty of this (again, described in this link: http://blogs.christianpost.com/confident-christian/profile-of-a-hatetheist-10298/). It resides in all of us, even those who call themselves Christians. Smart, educated people are especially prone to this pitfall precisely because they believe themselves to be smart.
While we may try to remove the more obvious signs of pride from our lives daily (particularly the socially unacceptable forms), I think a more hidden and dangerous kind threatens to destroy the possibility of salvation in many around us…even churchgoers who fully believe themselves to be saved.
This latent pride not only keeps someone from fully engaging with Almighty God in a genuine way, but it also gives people the false sense of security that they have nothing to worry about…that they are already right with God and the rest is just icing on the cake.
OK so what am I talking about? In a nutshell, it is this attitude: “I know better than God.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking…no one who calls themselves Christians would actually think or say this! Maybe not explicitly, but like love, feelings and words are not the best way to gauge whether we have the proper attitude. The best evidence is shown through actions and in the way we think.
This mindset presupposes that newer or more modern is always better. What we believe today is better than what “old-fashioned” people or societies in the past believed. “Traditional” has become a dirty word.
Why do people think this way? Because we have some evidence supporting this predisposition. Newer technology is generally faster and better. We can look into the historical past with 20/20 hindsight and see all the egregious mistakes that we have made. Since we appear to have progressed in some of these areas (e.g., slavery, racism, sexism), we conclude that we are always moving forward.
But this is a gross oversimplification, particularly when it comes to morality. Just as modern electric guitars do not beat a ’59 Gibson Les Paul, modern morality is not necessarily superior to the past overall. You cannot make blanket statements or judgments, but rather need to consider things piece by piece. As always, people love to think in ways that are convenient and neatly packaged, rather than nuanced.
For instance, yes, we can be jubilant in the abolition of slavery and that we have come to our senses that racism is wrong. We can be happy about getting closer to gender equality and laws protecting women from domestic abuse.
But as Bible-believing Christians, we should mourn the erosion of biblical and traditional marriage. We should feel immense sadness at the killing of unborn babies every day, while coming to grips with the ridiculous hypocrisy of judging China for throwing away unwanted daughters into dumpsters. “Choice” has become the ultimate good rather than right and wrong or the sanctity of life. Tolerance for all ideas has taken the place of pursuing and discerning actual truth.
We need to analyze things point by point. Not all modern things are better. If you believe Satan exists and is out to deceive the world, do you really think he’d make his acts of moral sabotage so obvious? Remember, he knows what he is doing and is smarter than the limits of our human intelligence. The only chance we have to withstand his barrage of deceptions is to be saturated in God’s Word.
Using Our Own Moral Compasses
There is supposed to be only one overriding moral compass in this world, and that is the Bible. The Holy Spirit also leads true believers, yes, but He never goes against God’s Word. There is never any contradiction, or else you are being misled by some other false spirit.
But nowadays, people regard their own feelings about moral issues as the ultimate guide for right and wrong. Nevermind what God said…this is what I feel. This is what I believe in my bones.
Again, there is just enough false evidence to lead us to conclude this is the way to go. That candy bar you stole when you were little? You sure felt that it was wrong, but you did it anyway. If only you had gone along with your trusty ol’ moral compass, surely you would have avoided breaking the law. Any time you lied to someone you care about, you felt a pang of guilty feelings. Sometimes, you have been led to do the right thing based on your conscience. All of this cumulative evidence leads you to believe that if only you are disciplined enough to follow your gut, you would do the right thing all the time.
So when your gut goes against what the Bible teaches you, without even knowing it, you trust your gut instead. Perhaps the problem is, subconsciously, you still need God and the Bible to prove themselves to you. Perhaps it’s not really your gut at all, but rather years of cultural brainwashing that have reformed your beliefs. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re immune to more advanced forms of peer pressure just because you’re out of high school now.
God may tell you that homosexuality is wrong, but then you look around and see happy gay couples…you see them on TV and they are fun and pleasant. Maybe your favorite uncle or a friend is gay and you feel ashamed that your Bible condemns their behavior when you want to be supportive.
Your gut starts to tell you that maybe the Bible is wrong on this issue or it didn’t consider things as comprehensively as you have.
At this point, maybe you should consider giving God a few pointers and bringing Him up to speed on the things you know. After all, His omniscience and timeless knowledge no longer carry as much weight as your own feelings on matters.
Again, we see Satan’s cleverness at work here. While he is able to convince some extreme people that blatantly wrong things like stealing or murder are OK, for the most part, he knows these things are an impossible battle. So what does he do? Probably what we would do in the same shoes. Go after the so-called “gray areas” where you can put up a more convincing argument to go against God (note: many of these perceived gray areas are actually quite black and white if we are properly informed). Prey on the extreme powers of human rationalization and rack up some victories there.
Don’t be fooled guys. We can’t trust our gut completely, nor can we trust societal norms. Heck, people seem more likely to trust GQ, Cosmo, or the liberal media these days rather than God.
If God actually exists, though, there is an ultimate authority on right and wrong and we are not it. Considering that people are wholly convinced about certain things—and these things differ based on time and culture—the ONLY reliable source of moral authority is the Bible.
If you go to different parts of the world, there will be countless people who are 100% convinced of opposite positions from you. Now we get into an issue of whose culture is better. You will inevitably think, “Ah, but they are a backwards culture. You can’t trust what they think.”
Do you really want to take on this kind of snobbery as well? What makes you so sure your culture is superior in every way? My opinion is that each culture has a few things right, a few things wrong. No one has it all figured out (and no one ever will).
If you don’t believe the Bible is the actual Word of God, then fine, that’s a different argument. But my point is that if you call yourself a Bible-believing Christian, you need to act like it. Don’t be a poser.
Imagine This Scenario
Imagine this. A guy sees a picture of a pretty girl on someone else’s Facebook. He decides from seeing this picture that he is meant to marry this girl. From the picture, he has constructed what he believes to be her personality. “I bet she likes taking nature walks and is reserved, but not overly shy.”
“I love her!”
He imagines what their dates would be like and the kind of parents they would be to their children. He would be the firm one to counter her nurturing hand and voice. He predicts the kinds of conversations they would have and the responses she would give to his questions.
Kind of creepy, right?
Well, now let’s say that he one day runs into her at a mutual friend’s party. He walks up and introduces himself to her, and he fully believes he accurately knows the kind of person she is.
Could he realistically expect her to fall for him immediately and agree to marry him?
Of course not! He’s more likely to get the following response than a yes to marriage: “I don’t know you, get away!”
Why is that? Because they never actually knew each other. He never met with her or developed a real relationship. Everything was according to his own imagination and was not grounded in reality.
The same goes for most “Christians” who have constructed their own image of God in their minds. They don’t read the Bible and get to know who He really is. When they do read, they change the obvious meaning to better suit their beliefs. They don’t wrestle with difficult truths and submit to His authority over their own. They don’t come to see who He really is.
Rather, they form an agreeable, politically correct, culturally relevant version of “God” in their minds. Maybe He’s a teddy bear. Forget the wrath stuff or divine judgment. “Forget what the Bible says, I’m sure God understands how things are now in America…”
But sure enough, these people are in real danger. They don’t know the true God, nor do they rely on Him as their authority. What do they think “LORD and savior” really means? It’s not “buddy and savior.”
Sadly, when these people reach the gates of heaven, they will likely be shocked to hear: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23)
But it really shouldn’t be shocking at all.
As you all probably know, the Miami Heat are now the NBA champions. LeBron James—one of the most talented players to ever play the game—finally has his first ring after a nine-year career full of “potential,” but never the prize.
A lot of people rooted against the Heat, and for good reason. Two years ago, LeBron James left everyone in the dark about where he was going to play next. He announced a TV special on ESPN called “The Decision,” which was basically nothing more than self-hype and cheesy suspense. Every basketball fan was dying to know where LeBron would be going, and he knew it. He milked his popularity and renown for all it was worth. And then he struck the dagger into Cleveland’s heart on national television by finally announcing that he would be “taking [his] talents to South Beach.” They burned his jersey and their love affair turned into an intense hatred.
As a somewhat impartial viewer, I totally understood his decision from a basketball standpoint. Here he was, a one-man team, leading the Cavaliers to the NBA’s best record. He took them to the finals in 2007, but it was clear that he was not getting the help he needed. LeBron was dominating on the floor, and the rest of his team was basically watching. Even Michael Jordan—the greatest of all time—didn’t win a championship until Scottie Pippen arrived. Kobe couldn’t win without Shaq until Pau Gasol came to L.A.
LeBron’s fall from grace was swift. There’s hardly anything like it to compare to in sports. He went from one of the most respected, touted athletes in the league to the #1 villain. He was booed and mocked regularly. Honestly, it was with good reason. In addition to disrespecting Cleveland, his self-aggrandizing was getting out of hand. This “Welcome Home” party for the Miami Heat was just ridiculous: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9BqUBYaHlM. The “Big Three” was basically saying how practice was going to be tough against each other, but winning games was the “easy part.” They boldly proclaimed that they would win “not one, not two, not three…[championships].” Do you know how many great, all-time players have never won ONCE? For them to make it sound easy was a slap in the face of all the past legends.
Their first year together, Miami reached the Finals against a somewhat aging Dallas Mavericks team. Here, I must take a detour!
Miami won the championship in 2006 with Shaq and Dwayne Wade (a rising superstar at the time) at the helm. They had fallen behind 0 games to 2—beaten convincingly in those games—and Dallas did something that was brash, even by Mark Cuban’s (the owner) standards. They already began planning the victory parade, and people knew about it. They had gotten full of themselves and wrote Miami off. You know the rest: Miami won the next four games to take the championship. Dallas was devastated and humiliated.
Now in the 2011 finals, the script had been flipped. Miami was the cocky team, and Dallas was the underdog. Dallas, drawing on the pain and experience of the past 5 years, pulled off the upset and defeated the star-laden Heat team. Sports writers everywhere criticized the Heat and picked apart their flaws. As Dwayne Wade later put it, “so much pain, so much hurt, so much embarrassment.” They were put in their place.
This year, they were different. They didn’t make assumptions about their fate as champions, they simply went out and played every game hard. LeBron let go of both his hate for the media (who blasted him for “The Decision”) and his supreme arrogance…he no longer seemed to hold his nickname, “King James,” as dear. This time, drawing upon the deep well reserves of hurt and failure, the Heat triumphed over the Oklahoma City Thunder in a quick 5 games. Afterward, there was no “told you so,” chest-beating, or defiant superiority. There was relief and sincere gratitude for what they had accomplished.
LeBron admitted that he had to hit “rock bottom” before he could become the player he had to be. This makes perfect sense in light of certain passages of scripture:
James 4:6: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Proverbs 3:34: “He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.”
Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Proverbs 29:23: “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.”
Matthew 23:12: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
And so on, and so on…
Whether Christian or not, we as moral creatures all intuitively know that pride is wrong. It is offensive for reasons that cannot be easily explained by natural law. But it’s fascinating to see the Bible’s words play out repeatedly in our world today.
You may have noticed that I’ve been posting with a bit more regularity these days. I wanted to get the objections finished before next week, which is when I’m starting my seminary classes. That’s right, the time is finally here, and I’m definitely stoked!
For the first half of the semester, I’ll be taking Introduction to Old Testament Studies and Introduction to Pastoral Counseling. From looking at the course schedules, it seems that there will be a LOT of reading and writing involved, so I don’t know how often I’ll be able to keep up with this blog. My goal is to have at least one entry per week, though if I can stick to my original goal of two posts per week, I’ll be very happy. This blog is definitely something I want to keep up, as it helps me think about things a bit more deeply than I otherwise would. Writing always forces me to think, which is a good thing.
These two courses cover areas in which I am definitely mediocre in my knowledge. I need to learn a lot about the Old Testament, and I suck at anything resembling pastoral counseling. I’m good at straight truth-telling, but sensitivity, compassion, and tact are not my strengths!
Which reminds me, I’ve been told that I come across as overly direct or a little arrogant sometimes. For that, I sincerely apologize. I guess I’m not as good at this righteous anger thing as I need to be. There’s part of me that can’t help it because of the inner pride that still resides in me, but there’s also the fact that I’m constantly listening to and reading atheist arguments. I guess because they are so forceful (and let’s be honest, mocking or often condescending), I mirror that tone and can’t help but get a little annoyed myself at times. It’s funny…the ignorance of Christians angers atheists, and the ignorance of atheists angers Christians.
Anyway, as I start seminary, please pray for me if you can remember to do so. Please pray that I will learn everything to the best of my ability and never lose my fire. I want to learn thoroughly and deeply so that I become ingrained with this knowledge. The last thing I want is to earn my M.Div and forget much of what I was taught. That’s what happened in my undergrad years (and apparently, to many pastors I’ve seen), but seminary is too important to make this mistake.
Hopefully, I can continually learn cool new things to bless my readers here. =)
Let the voyage begin!
Before I begin, I’d like to point to the more theologically-minded to this article by John Piper: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/is-jesus-an-egomaniac. What I’m about to write comes more from my own ideas and what helps me as I’ve thought about this issue. I’m sure others have come to similar conclusions.
Atheists and even Christians alike have sometimes wondered why God seems to into himself, or why he’s so concerned about his glory. When a person seeks fame and honor, we might stick up our noses and refer to that person as “full of himself,” arrogant, or even needy for attention. But when God demands our worship and wants us to love him even more than FAMILY, we need to get a good grasp on what’s going on.
First of all, let’s consider why it bothers us when people are like this.
Why does cockiness bother us so much?
Imagine an athlete who has just had a game of career highs, and during the interview, he boasts: “I’m not surprised at my excellence. I am on a different level from all the other players in the league, and everyone knows it.”
Don’t you think he would immediately become every other player’s new favorite target? Public enemy #1 in a sense? If it were basketball, you can bet defensive players guarding him would use every ounce of energy to keep him in check. They might bang bodies with him, knocking him to the floor (even if they pick up technical fouls). Anytime this arrogant athlete had a subpar game, you can bet he’d be hearing an earful from the opposing players all night. The others would rejoice in his failures.
The worldly explanation of why arrogance or self-promotion angers us might go like this: if a human being exalts herself, it goes against our belief that men and women are created equal. That boasting person is now claiming to be a cut above us. We are lowered in status, and equality goes out the window. Our uniqueness and special-ness are undermined. In the words of some wise person, which I’ve adopted on numerous occasions, we think: “Doesn’t that person wipe their butts just like we do?” Didn’t they cry and poop as babies just as we did?
This all points to the issue of pride, which we all intuitively know deep within us is sinful and an abomination. Just think how you feel when someone belittles your intelligence, your beauty, your worth. It feels wrong because God has instilled in us a sense that all human life is valuable. Anyone devaluing others sets off our moral alarms that something is terribly amiss.
Now imagine if that boastful athlete above was Michael Jordan. Would it seem quite as ridiculous or offensive? Public opinion might be torn. Some would defend him saying, “He’s just saying the truth. It’s not cocky if you can back it up.” Others would begrudgingly mutter, “Yea he’s the best, I just don’t like that attitude.”
As Bruce Lee once said, “If I tell you I’m good, you would probably think I’m boasting. If I tell you I’m no good, you know I’m lying.”
I’m sure you see where this is going.
God “isn’t cocky, just confident”
Let’s take it up a few…an infinite number of notches. If God Almighty proclaims his greatness, is it being cocky? Is it being an egomaniac? No, not at all. What he would be stating is pure objective fact. It’s a factual teaching for us to learn, that the creator of the entire universe is out there and worthy of praise.
When humans are boastful to each other, it offends us because we operate with the proper assumption that we are all valuable. We are supposed to be equals. An objectively equal person is claiming subjectively to be superior. But imagine how much God is offended when we boast to him or in spite of him. We aren’t even close to being equal with God. We are his creation, immeasurably inferior objectively, and yet we are still claiming to be equal or even superior.
Instead of feeling grateful for life and his sacrificial love, we elevate ourselves above him with our defiance, lifestyles, or idolatry—which can include love of money, the exaltation of science and human intelligence, or even loving another person more than God. We have guys like Sam Harris stating that any random book in Barnes and Noble would be superior to the very Word of God. Ouch.
Is it so surprising that God needs to teach us and remind us in clear terms what’s REALLY important? He is the one who is actually deserving of being elevated in our thoughts, words, and actions.
It’s easy to see why God needs to demand it so much. Even though he makes it crystal clear what we should be doing, we fail to do it anyway. If even “religious” people fail to honor him properly or sufficiently, how much more would we all fall short if God had never mentioned it? The Bible spells things out clearly sometimes, and we still fail to see it.
So what’s in it for us?
Theoretically, I could say “nothing” here and we would still be compelled to worship and exalt God. Even an earthly dictator could demand adulation from his people, and there’s not much they could do about it. That dictator probably couldn’t care less whether his subjects derive any benefit from it. The all-powerful God of the universe would be all the more entitled to endless praise, and the threat of his power would be enough to make us think twice.
But God happens to be a much bigger person than that, and there are actually positive benefits to praising him. Not only does he promise us rewards in the afterlife, but here on earth, worshiping God can become life’s greatest joy and privilege. This is a fact that is lost on those who scoff at God and his followers, but those on the inside know that there is nothing better. We were designed this way, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s the only thing that truly fulfills us in this world (cue the old “God-shaped hole in our hearts” cliche).
Even nonbelievers can get a glimpse of this. I’ve seen people joyously collect posters and other Michael Jordan memorabilia. They “worship” him and get a taste of what it’s like to praise another and be lifted in spirit themselves. Spouses can honor each other (perhaps after demands for more love) and derive satisfaction from that, despite the hard work and sacrifice it may entail.
But Jordan can disappoint (and retire). Spouses will hurt us and let us down. So will friends and family, even when times are relatively good. These are all fleeting and pale imitations. They are candy, filling us up with a false sense of satisfaction, but our bodies and spirits long for the real thing.
Like a child is entitled to love and nurturing because of his or her inherent value, God is objectively worthy of worship. It’s to the point where we are morally compelled to do it. He doesn’t need an ego boost; he already knows the truth that it is right and good to worship him. There simply is no earthly comparison. Not only that, but when we exalt him, we ourselves are satisfied when we do it. He wants us to experience the joy of knowing him.
So no, He is not an egomaniac. That is a gross anthropomorphic oversimplification.